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Transition Game: Larry Bird

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Legend Continues: Larry Bird

Larry Bird joined his team's front office when his playing
days were over. He became a "special assistant" with the Celtics franchise,
a role that charged him with evaluating talent for the annual NBA
Draft. But after five years of that involvement, and playing golf and fishing
in Florida, Bird had the desire to get actively involved in the game again.

So Bird transitioned his leadership skills into coaching in 1997,
when he became head coach of the Indiana Pacers. As related in Chapter
2, he quickly made a success of it (during his three-year tenure with
the Pacers, the team won 147 and lost 67 [.687], won two Central Division
titles, and reached the NBA Finals in 2000. He was voted Coach of
the Year in 1998).

But Bird never looked on coaching as a career. In his
second year as coach, I asked him if he would consider staying on longer
than his contract. He replied, "Jack, you know I'm no real coach. I've really
learned a lot and it's been a lot of fun, but I'm done after next year."


More recently, when I reminded him of those statements, Larry explained,
"I meant that I wasn't going to dedicate my life to coaching basketball.
It was really selfish of me to take the Pacers job. I had loved
being a player and wanted to find out what it was like to coach - and I
enjoyed that too, but I never intended to make a career of it."

In fact, Bird has bigger business ambitions. He wants to own an NBA
team. He said, "That's what I'd like to do next. I'd like to run the basketball
end of a franchise - get a team and work with it from the ground up."
Bird is part of a financially sound group, headed by Steve Belkin, that
bid for the Charlotte expansion franchise and was bitterly disappointed when the league awarded the franchise to Bob Johnson in 2002.

Now they assess teams looking for a change in ownership. "There are teams
available now, but they're mostly strapped by the salary cap and luxury
tax and wouldn't be good investments." He added, "Charlotte would
have been perfect."
He's hoping it will happen for him yet. "If I can do that, then I'll
have done it all in basketball: played, coached, and owned a team - all in
the NBA."

In the meantime, Bird keeps busy as owner and operator of a highly
successful golf course in Naples, Florida, named The Hide Out Golf
Club. He and two of his buddies, Larry and Maurice Kent ("they're from
Philadelphia - can you believe that?"), built the course because they got
tired of five-hour rounds of golf. Bird also does radio and television commercials
and makes appearances for major corporations.

He is also focused on family and, to that end, is trying to reduce his
travel time so that he can be at home more with his family. Bird lives
with his wife, Dinah, and their two children, Conner and Mariah, in a
beautifully situated home on the bay in Naples. His back condition, improved
by surgically fusing the fourth and fifth vertebrae, allows him to
jog a couple of miles with his dog in the morning, ride his bicycle, and
play golf pretty much pain-free.

He and Dinah spend a lot of time with their kids, and Larry thinks
Conner (age 11) might become a player. "He's really quick and can shoot
it. He doesn't handle well right now, but he's young - and you never
know."

In the summer, the family goes back to its spread in French Lick,
Indiana, where they have, essentially, a three-month reunion with family
and friends. "We have a big place there, with a swimming pool and all
kinds of playground stuff. It's a blast," says Bird.

A greater "blast" will be to see Bird run a basketball operation in the
NBA - to put his stamp on a team, pick the right players and coaches, and
instill in them the same level of competitiveness, confidence, and sense of
teamwork that made him one of the all-time great players.

Bird gets his
chance to do all that with the Pacers, who hired him in the summer of
2003 as their president of basketball operations. In that capacity, Bird will
have control of everything connected with the operation except contract negotiations, which former president, Donnie Walsh - now franchise
CEO - will continue to handle. Bird didn't waste any time establishing his
authority. Seven weeks after taking over, he fired Coach Isiah Thomas and
replaced him with Rick Carlisle.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.